3 Indian women settle human traffic charges with Kuwaiti govt

Kuwait has agreed to settle a case brought by three Indian women, who claimed they were trafficked to the US by a Kuwaiti diplomat and his wife and forced to work as domestic employees at the diplomat's home in Virginia against their will and under slavery-like conditions.

The three women – Kumari Sabbithi, Joaquina Quadros and Tina Fernandes -- were employed as domestic workers by Al Saleh and his wife at their home in McLean, Virginia.

A lawsuit in 2007 filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged that they were brought to the US in the summer of 2005 and that they were forced to work every day from 6:30 a.m. until sometimes as late as 1:30 a.m. for approximately USD 250 to USD 350 a month.

The complaint said that they were subjected to threats, verbal and physical abuse, including one incident in which Al Saleh threw one of the women, Sabbithi, against a kitchen table, knocking her unconscious, ACLU said in a statement.

"This settlement affirms the principle that no form of immunity should allow diplomats to treat their employees like slaves," said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

"Domestic employees brought to the US from other countries should expect the same level of protection from violence and exploitation as anyone else," Sherwin said.

According to ACLU, these women alleged that they were often not allowed time to eat or to use the bathroom and frequently were deprived of food, that two of them were allowed only one hour off a month to attend church, and that they had their passports taken away and were isolated from contact with the external world.

The complaint alleged that, fearing for their lives, the three women fled the household toward the end of 2005.

As a diplomat, Al Saleh was legally required by the State Department to sign a contract with each of the women guaranteeing them a fair wage, specific working conditions and safe passage home.

Instead, the complaint alleged, he and his wife brought the women to the US under false pretenses, intending to exploit them all along, ACLU said.

"This settlement sends a message to others that the US will not tolerate the trafficking and abuse of human beings under any circumstances, and that those who do suffer such abuse can obtain some form of justice," said Steven Watt, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program.

"These women should be commended for having the courage to stand up and demand that they and others like them be treated with dignity and respect after enduring such shocking and cruel conditions," Watt said.

Notably after the allegations surfaced, the US in November 2007 had forced the departure of a Kuwaiti diplomat from his post at the embassy in Washington. This was probably for the first time the US had taken such strong action against a diplomat accused of abuse against domestic staff.

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